Orillia councillor Maurice McMillan pitched his belief in the need for Ontario to retain its coal-generated power plants while the head of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, Jack Gibbons, praised the provincial government for committing to phase out "dirty" coal.
Both men were part of a discussion about the future of power generation in Ontario hosted by the Simcoe North Green Party stemming from a provincial government proposal to construct two new nuclear reactors at Ontario's Darlington Nuclear Generating Station. The government is supposed to announce next month which of three companies will be contracted to build the facilities, provided the federal government agrees to fund cost overruns on the project.
The creation of new nuclear generating potential is the wrong direction for the province to take, Gibbons told a group of around 25 people who attended the debate.
"That will lock us into (the) nuclear system for another 60 years," Gibbons said. "Nuclear is a 1950s solution that doesn't work in the 21st century.
The Clean Air Alliance favours the province moving toward 100% renewable electricity through increased energy conservation and technologies like wind, solar and hydroelectric. Gibbons sees the potential for the province to meet its power demands by importing excess hydroelectric power from Quebec or Labrador. The first major step in attaining that goal, aside from not committing any more resources to nuclear generation, is shutting down Ontario's four remaining coal-fired power plants and replacing them with natural gas as a transition fuel, he said.
"Now we have a unique opportunity to rebuild our electricity system from the ground up," Gibbons said.
That's where McMillan, a strong proponent of publicly owned power companies with 30 years of experience in the electricity industry, disagreed emphatically with Gibbons.
"It is economically imperative that we keep coal generation in the electricity mix," McMillan said. "Whatever you do... you have to do it with a well-thought-out economic stability plan."
McMillan believes that coal is an important element that supplements the electricity grid during peak demand times. He said he doesn't agree with removing coal until new, greener technologies have been proven that they can perform the same job.
"I'm not against new technology. I'm against ramming it in," he said.
With the government already committed to phasing out Ontario's coal plants, Gibbons said the coal debate was basically moot. Although still a fossil fuel, he touted natural gas as the cleaner alternative and noted the potential for wider use of natural gas for both heating and power generation.
However, the shift to privately owned natural gas will result in higher prices for consumers, predicts McMillan.
On the nuclear front, McMillan admits he has concerns about the need for new nuclear reactors that could create more supply than demand, but maintains nuclear generation is also an important element of the province's electrical makeup.